Incredible Illusions

illustrious illusionsBehold the mystery…the wonder…the spectacle…of your very own mini magic show!

magic tricksThis project was the culminating event at To Be Continued, our weekly story time for 6 to 8-year-olds. Every week, we read from a chapter book and celebrate the the end of the entire book with a project and/or activity.

We read Horton’s Incredible Illusions by Lissa Evans (the sequel to Horton’s Mechanical Mechanisms (Sterling Children’s Books, 2012)). Young Stuart Horton moves to the town of Beeton and expects to be thoroughly bored. However, he soon discovers that he is part of a magical legacy left by his Great Uncle Tony, who was a stage magician and illusionist. In the first book, Stuart and his friend April solve a series of complicated clues and find Uncle Tony’s secret workshop. In the sequel, the friends again embark on a journey. This time, they’re searching for Great Uncle Tony’s will, which bequeths the contents of his workshop to whoever finds the document first. Clues are hidden in each of his magical stage illusions, but…the magical worlds inside the illusions are real and in some cases, dangerous. And Stuart and April aren’t the only one interested in getting their hands on those tricks.

We definitely needed some incredible illusions to celebrate the conclusion of these awesome books. I designed these individual mini magic shows to be easy enough for 6-year-olds to do, but intriguing enough for 8-year-olds. After consulting a number of children’s magic books, I found Amazing Magic Tricks: Beginner Level by Norm Barnhart (Edge Books, 2008) to be the most useful. The 4 tricks described in this post are from this book.

You’ll need:

  • 1 memory box (more about this below)
  • A 10.5″ piece of PVC pipe (05.” in diameter)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 1 paper cup
  • 1 paper (or fabric) flower
  • 1 empty seed packet (or small envelope simply marked “Magic Seeds”)
  • A 9″ x 12″ piece of felt (I used the glitter variety)
  • hat rabbit carrot template printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 Styrofoam coffee cup
  • A selection of foil star stickers
  • 2 playing cards
  • A 1″ foam paintbrush (or regular paintbrush)
  • Scissors and tape for construction

You’ll need a box with a lid to store your tricks and shield your hands from the audience as you prepare your tricks. A memory box is perfect for this. I purchased mine at Michaels Craft store. I went with black, but they come in all sorts of colors and patterns.

memory boxDecorate the lid of your box however you like (I found some self-adhesive glitter foam stars in the clearance section at the craft store) then slide the lid onto the box like so. This creates a “screen” and a “backstage” area to prep your tricks.

magic boxNext, wrap colored masking tape around the PVC pipe. Your magic wand is ready!

wand

TRICK #1: HIDDEN FLOWER

The most important thing about this trick is making sure the flower is small enough to hide in your fist. I purchased 1.25″ paper flowers for the kids (scored on discount from the scrap booking section of the craft store).

flowerBehind your box’s screen, grab the flower in your fist. Then use the same hand to hold the paper cup with your fingers.

flower trick 1To perform the trick, show the audience that your cup is empty. Then say “Oh no! It’s empty. Well, good thing I have some stupendous magic seeds!” Pick up the empty seed packet and pretend to pour seeds into the cup.

flower trick 2Wave the wand around muttering magical incantations. While the audience is distracted by the wand, open your fingers and drop the flower into the cup. Shout “Ta da!” and show them that a flower has magically appeared!

flower trick 3TRICK #2: FIND THE RABBIT

Print the hat, rabbit, carrot template. Fold and tear the strip in 2 places, like your see below. It’s really important that your TEAR the strip. Don’t cut it with scissors!

rabbit trickTo perform the trick, hold up the 3 image cards and say “You see a hat, a rabbit, and some carrots, but with my amazing magical skills, I will pull the rabbit from under this cloth every time!” Turn your back and have an audience member arrange the 3 image cards on the table and cover them with felt.

rabbit trick 2Reach underneath the felt and feel the edges of the image cards with your fingers.

rabbit trick 3The rabbit will be the only image card with two torn edges. Remove it from under the cloth with a flourish! Repeat with a difference audience member. Astounding!

rabbit trick 4TRICK #3: BALANCING CUP

First, decorate a Styrofoam cup with foil star stickers. Next, cut a playing card in half, lengthwise. Tape one half of the cut playing card to the back of another card. The half of the playing card should “hinge” outward like so

cup trick 1To perform the trick, flatten the hinge to the card and hold it up to your audience, keeping the taped side facing your body. Invite an audience member to come forward and try to balance the Styrofoam cup on top of the card. Then say “You see it is impossible. But I will now use magic to make the impossible, possible!”

While you’re talking, sneak a finger up the card and open the hinge on the back, forming an area for the cup to balance. From the side, it looks like this:

cup trick 2But from the front, it looks like the cup is now balancing on the card!

cup trick 3TRICK #4: MAGIC GLUE

To perform this trick, tell the audience that you have magic glue. Hold up a paintbrush and Invite an audience member to come up and “paint” your hand with the magical glue. For my version of the trick, we used 1″ foam paintbrushes I had left over from another program.

wand trick 1Now hold the wand in your “glued” hand. Say “Observe my stupendous magical glue!” Extend your arm across your body and out to your side, still grasping the wand. Next, wrap your free hand around the wrist of your wand hand. Slowly and dramatically, lift each finger from the wand until you no longer appear to be holding it.

wand trick 2But you are holding it of course. Because when you grasp your wrist, you sneak a finger behind your wand hand and hold the wand like this:

wand trick 3Now have the audience clap once to have the wand “detach” from the magic glue. Carefully lift your finger to release the wand, and let it fall dramatically to the floor. Take a big bow.

The kids absolutely loved this project. I performed the whole show first, and then I deconstructed all the tricks and each kid made his/her own set. If, by the way, you’d like to see the awesome mechanisms we made after reading Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms (the first book in this set), click here.

Think Spring

three flowersWhat could be better than this lovely bluebell, orchid, and dandelion? How about an entire garden full of this fantastical flowery headgear?

gardenWe read My Garden by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 2010). While a little girl is helping her mother in the garden, she daydreams about her own garden. In her garden, the flowers change color according to your thoughts, chocolate bunnies pose no threat to your lettuce, colorful jelly bean bushes bloom, the air is full of birds and butterflies, and the strawberries glow like little lanterns at night. Beautiful!

You’ll need:

  • A circle of white poster board (approximately 10″ in diameter)
  • A pencil
  • 1 long strip of poster board (approximately 2″ x 20″)
  • 1 shorter strip of poster board (approximately 2″ x 15″)
  • Pieces of poster board, assorted colors
  • Pieces of construction paper, assorted colors
  • Pieces of tissue paper, assorted colors
  • A selection of pipe cleaners, assorted colors
  • A selection of pom-poms, assorted colors
  • 2 rectangles of green poster board (approximately 5.25″ x 10″)
  • 2 pieces of green britelace
  • Green masking tape
  • Scissors, stapler, tape, white glue and/or glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decoration
  • Hot glue

Press the circle of poster board up to your face and use a pencil to trace an opening for your face in the center. The top of the face opening should be under your eyebrows, and the bottom should be just below your lips. For this particular project, it’s best if the face circle is on the small side (my face circle, for example, was 5.5″ in diameter). Once the circle is traced, cut it out.

circleNow for the straps. Tab one end of the long construction paper strip and staple it to one side of the circle. Then hold the circle up to your face and wrap the strap around the back of your head. Make sure the strap is fairly snug, then tab it and staple to the other side of the circle.

strap 1Next, lay the shorter poster board strip over top of your head. Measure for snugness and staple the short strip to the longer strip. You now have two straps – one that fits around the back of your head, and one that rests on the top of your head.

strap 2 Now it’s time to decorate! Use markers, poster board, construction paper, tissue paper, pipe cleaners and pom-poms to create your flower. I made 3 example flowers – a bluebell, a pink orchid, and a yellow dandelion.

flower examples I figured I wouldn’t have to sell girls on this project, but I thought boys might be a little hesitant to become flowers. So the dandelion was designed to be appealing to boys, as was the color / name choice for the bluebell. We had 9 boys and 3 girls at this story time. I’m delighted to report that not a single boy balked at being a flower.

With your headdress complete, it’s time for leafy wristbands! Cut fringes, leaf, or petal shapes out of your green construction paper rectangle.

wristbandsThen wrap it around your wrist and staple. Make sure you staple the wristband a little loose so you can slip it on and off easily. Next add construction paper fringes, green masking tape highlights, twisted green pipe cleaners, green britelace “vines”…whatever strikes your fancy!

finished wristbandYour project is complete, but we’re not done with this post just yet. This weekend kicked off the world-famous Philidelphia Flower Show and my assistant Joani celebrated by wearing her orchid headdress to the event! Just look at this image and tell me it isn’t the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen.

joani with butterflies

The Chemistry of Magic

chemistry of magicMove over Merlin, Gandalf, Harry, and Miss Price! It’s time for some science magic! That’s me having the time of my life igniting a hydrogen balloon soaked in aqueous barium chloride. Best. Time. Ever.

Last month, Cotsen collaborated with the Princeton Chemistry Outreach Program to create The Chemistry of Magic, a program that unveiled the science behind seemingly magical chemical reactions. The lecture and demonstrations were the brainchildren of Dr. Kathryn Wagner, who is standing to the right of the GIANT GREEN FIREBALL in the image above.

Some of my favorite demonstrations included “Elephant Toothpaste” (a hugely gloppy reaction created by mixing hydrogen peroxide, soap and potassium iodide solution), the “Ring of Fire” (igniting isopropyl rubbing alcohol within a water cooler bottle to produce a slow, licking blue flame), and the “Methane Mamba” (which basically involved holding a column of methane infused soap bubbles in our hand, placing a match in the middle, and enjoying a raging pillar of flames).

We also demonstrated a “Dry Ice Rainbow,” invisible ink, color change experiments, a Tesla coil, a blind spot optical illusion, homemade glow stick solution, liquid nitrogen fog, and a “Genie in a Bottle” (a reaction of hydrogen peroxide and manganese dioxide powder in a 2-liter soda bottle…the result being 8 feet of writhing steam).

Could you host such a program? Sure! There were a couple of high school science teachers in attendance. You might have one near your institution or library who would be willing to work some science magic. You can also talk with your local science center, university, or college to see if they might be interested a collaboration.

But don’t, however, try this at home. We were in a large chemistry lecture hall with proper ventilation, safety equipment, and under Dr. Wagner’s watchful eye. Don’t try this at home folks! Really.

So the next time a character in a book summons a fireball (Incendio!), we hope that readers will pause and reflect on the real fireball they saw at this program, and consider the awesome science that made it possible.